February 16, 2012

BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: "Available Dark" a graphic mystery, dark chocolate stars in "Desserted"

Bill Bushnell

By Elizabeth Hand
Minotaur Books, 2012
246 pages, $23.99
ISBN 978-0-312-58594-5
It may be hard to believe, but there actually are people who are so obsessed with murder and death they collect “murderabilia,” especially crime scene photographs of dead bodies.  And New York City photographer Cass Neary is unfortunate enough to stumble into a Scandanavian network of these sickos, not realizing that she may soon be in one of those photos.

AVAILABLE DARK is Maine author Elizabeth Hand’s ninth mystery novel, second in her mystery series featuring Cass Neary. “Scary Neary” to her friends, she’s a 40-ish “burned-out underachiever” addicted to booze, pills and bad decisions.

Cass is an edgy photographer, famous in small circles for her cult classic book of photos of dead people. Now on the run from some unexplained unpleasantness in Maine — and loaded on bourbon and crystal meth — she accepts a strange telephonic job offer to fly to Finland to authenticate some rare and extremely valuable “snuff” photos taken by a well-known Finnish fashion photographer.

She is desperate for money and is trying to avoid the Maine cops, but her trip to Finland results in three gruesome murders — the photos are missing, and the Scandanavian police want to ask her a few questions.

Cass flees to Iceland to find an old boyfriend, unaware that he knows the three newest murder victims, and may have been involved in the “snuff” photos she saw. 

Before she knows it, Cass is stalked, assaulted and kidnapped, left to freeze to death in the frigid Icelandic wilderness in winter.  Other people disappear, too, lost in a black world of murderous mythology, ritualistic killings and death metal music (which sounds a lot like a train wreck).

Cass is not a nice person, not likeable at all, but she is a survivor.  And this is a really creepy, graphic, profane story.


By Kate Shaffer
Down East Books, 2011
126 pages, $29.95
ISBN 978-0-89272-991-3
The people who think they know a lot about chocolate act like the same people who think they know a lot about wine.  But chocolatier Kate Shaffer really does know a lot about chocolate, and she simplifies the mystery. “If it tastes good, it is good,” she wisely proclaims.

DESSERTED is Shaffer’s debut cookbook devoted to the making, cooking, preparing and eating one of nature’s most delicious foods — chocolate.  Shaffer lives with her husband, Steve, on Isle au Haut (off Stonington) where she owns the Black Dinah Chocolatiers cafe and store.

She and Steve moved to Maine from California in 2001, and opened the business in 2005. She makes and sells all types of chocolates and has captured 36 of her favorite recipes in this tasty and fun cookbook, covering everything from candies, breakfast foods, pies and cakes, to cookies, ice cream and puddings.

The delightful recipes include such treats as Sexy Mexi Truffles, chocolate gingerbread pancakes and chocolate lavender pound cake, as well as macaroons with chocolate buttercream, chocolate-dipped molasses cookies (serve with whiskey), and bittersweet chocolate pudding (“all of the comfort, none of the chemicals”).

Best, however, are her vivid descriptions of the six steps in making chocolate, her succinct explanation of chocolate terminology, the all-important understanding of what is not chocolate, and what to do if your ganache crumbles.  She also provides several charming essays about island life, making chocolate, Valentine’s Day and how “tempering” chocolate is like an island town meeting.

Learn too why a blowtorch and a hair dryer are essential kitchen tools for a chocolatier, how a house fire inspired a tasteful recipe for black bread, the differences between dark, bittersweet, semisweet and milk chocolates, and how you can tell if chocolate is really fake.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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